Bishop's Column

Free to love—chastely

In March, Pope Benedict XVI told a group of U.S. bishops that our culture needs to discover “an integrated, consistent and uplifting vision of human sexuality.” Without it, he said, American culture will face “grave societal problems bearing an immense human and economic cost.”

In response to the Holy Father’s message, I spent a very enjoyable evening last week talking about human sexuality ... in a bar.

Not every bishop can say that.

The setting was Theology on Tap, a monthly gathering for young adult Catholics held at Katie Mullen’s, a fantastic Irish pub on the 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver.

The speaker was Eve Tushnet, a 33-year-old from Washington, D.C., who openly talks about her homosexual attraction.

Eve is also a Catholic and is committed to living her life according to the teachings of the Church—which means she chooses to live chastely.

She was invited to Denver to share what it is like to live in a way few attempt and even fewer discuss.

There are, of course, many people—Catholic and non-Catholic—who are attracted to members of the same sex; the numbers are not negligible. Like Eve, there are many other Catholics with same-sex attraction who are earnestly committed to living in conformity with the Gospel—which can mean a life of unique difficulty.

Few Catholics are able to speak about an issue so personal as reconciling sexual identity with faith. But Eve did so artfully—she spoke clearly, honestly and with the kind of vulnerability that should be commonplace in a Christian community. She offered a genuine insight into the challenges that chaste, faithful, same-sex attracted Catholics face—and those challenges are not insignificant. Eve spoke about sublimating her sexual desires for women into expressions of love that are in harmony with Church teaching. She has tried to understand the Church’s teaching on same-sex attraction—that engaging in homosexual acts is outside of God’s plan for sexuality. Eve was clear that same-sex-attracted Catholics face challenges that single laypeople or clerics do not face in living chastely.  All of us should be sensitive to that.

But Eve also offered insights into the virtue of chastity that are profoundly meaningful for all Catholics. She offered three key practices essential to living a life of chastity: developing authentic friendships, a dedication to hospitality and service, and a real commitment to an active prayer life.

Authentic friendships are key to the Christian life and are particularly key to cultivating the virtue of chastity. Friendships give us support in living a life of fidelity to Jesus Christ. But friendships also allow us to love—to speak from our heart to another. We are created for love—and friendships are a school and forum for love. Real love, expressed between friends, is an opportunity to pour out the love God has given us—but in a context that helps us to grow in virtue and holiness.

Hospitality and service are similar. Chastity, in marriage or in the single life, means that our sexuality is ordered and we are not enslaved by our passions. When our lives are ordered we are freer for others—we are free to practice the hospitality of Jesus Christ’s disciples. So committing to hospitality and service to others sets us free to truly love in a chaste and self-giving way.

Finally, Eve stressed the need for a life of prayer. Prayer is a place where we can pour out our love for God and be loved deeply by him. Prayer is the means by which we can know our God, and ourselves, and ask him for grace. Chastity requires that we be set free by Jesus Christ—which happens in prayer. Knowing God and submitting ourselves to him is always the key to freedom.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that chastity allows us to make a “gift of the person.” It continues: “Self-mastery is ordered to the gift of self. Chastity leads him who practices it to become a witness to his neighbor of God’s fidelity and loving kindness.” This was at the heart of Eve’s talk—and is the witness of her life.

“The Christian understanding of sexuality” reflected Pope Benedict XVI, “is a source of genuine freedom, happiness and the fulfillment of our fundamental and innate human vocation to love.”

The Lord has done great things in Eve Tushnet’s life—he has allowed her to become a witness to our universal vocation of love.  He is waiting to do great things in each of our lives as well. He is waiting to set us free to love.

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